TOP 2009 CONCERTS 'Idol' worship and a couple of classics

By Guy D’Astolfo

YOUNGSTOWN — Classic rockers and "American Idol" stars dominated the local concert scene in 2009, a year that also saw a lot of return visits by bands.

The timing couldn’t have been better for the Journey/Heart show at Covelli Centre. A resurgent wave of Journey-mania was still going strong, making the Aug. 20 concert the biggest of the year.

Both bands presented nothing-but-hits sets from way back when. But while the sold-out crowd was mainly there to see Journey, Heart actually sounded better. Journey’s soaring vocals and driving rhythms were perfect for creating a wall of echo, while Heart’s more precise tunes came out much clearer. Ann Wilson’s amazing voice sounds exactly like it did in the ’80s. And her sister, guitarist Nancy Wilson, fortunately still looks exactly like she did in the ’80s.

Journey arrived with its latest swap-in at lead singer, Arnel Pineda, whom the band found in a Journey tribute band. I couldn’t help thinking of the 2001 movie “Rock Star” with Mark Wahlberg. If you haven’t seen the flick, Google it. Life imitates art once again.

Pineda bounced around the stage and pumped up the crowd — unlike the original members, who really don’t do the rock- star shtick anymore.

The success of the Journey/Heart doubleheader at Covelli was followed up with a classic-rock tripleheader on Nov. 7: Styx, REO Speedwagon and Night Ranger.

Freshening things up a bit were the 'Idols': Kelly Clarkson and Daughtry.

Clarkson’s Oct. 17 show at Covelli was easily the best production of the year. Her big voice was backed by a crack 11-piece band and a wall of stage lighting that brought the glitz. The personable “Since You Been Gone” singer chatted with the young audience to set up the songs, giving the proceedings a theater atmosphere.

Daughtry’s Nov. 4 show at Covelli definitely drew better, for some reason. Daughtry puts on a neat and clean, PG-rated pseudo-rock show that utterly lacked spontaneity and excitement. A standing-only zone was set up in front of the stage, and Daughtry strutted through it on a catwalk. But it seemed like an artifice, designed to give the show the look and feel of a real rock show. Ditto the leaping flames and the cannon blasts. It would’ve looked good on the small screen, but it felt like I was part of the studio audience.

Fortunately, most of the crowd was content to sit and listen to Daughtry’s ballad-heavy repertoire.

Opening act Theory of a Deadman showed a lot of potential with punchy radio hits such as “I Hate My Life,” and a more genuine stage demeanor.

Also blowing into town in 2009 were a number of bands making their second visit in recent years. These included Chevelle (May 28, the Wedge), Social Distortion (Oct. 2, The Wedge) and Papa Roach (Nov. 7, the Wedge). The ascendant Shinedown returned for its one-millionth visit, a sold-out March 23 show at the Wedge, with Saliva.

Shinedown — who have now played more Youngstown gigs than anyone this side of the Hern Brothers Band — already has its next show scheduled (Feb. 2 at Covelli). They had one of the biggest albums of the year, but shouldn’t these touring machines be worried about oversaturation?

Mudvayne and Black Label Society were taking turns in the headliner slot on their summer tour, and it was Mudvayne’s turn at the July 29 show at Covelli.

Black Label, fronted by long-haired megalomaniac Zakk Wylde, mustered a legion of devotees garbed in the band’s motorcycle gang T-shirts that even specified the wearer’s chapter (i.e., Ohio, Pennsylvania, etc.). Mudvayne’s set spawned a number of moshpits, like twisters forming on the plains on an unstable day. This half-house concert drew 1,500 to 2,000 people — and had a male to female ratio of at least 10:1.

A quartet of up-and-coming (if not generic) hard-rock acts ushered in the outdoor concert season June 13. Halestorm, Veer Union, Burn Halo and Since October each had a charting song at the time of the festival on West Federal Street, downtown.

A series of decent blues artists made appearances at the Dash Inn on the West Side, thanks to promoter Milo Prisuta, who learned the biz decades ago with Pittsburgh’s once-dominant DeCesare-Engler Productions. The blues is an indispensible ingredient to rock music, but it can be a bit much when left undiluted. Fortunately, the old pros who showed up at the Dash Inn — Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Ana Popovic among them — delivered fresh and scorching licks that demonstrated what’s so timeless about their art form.

The Canfield Fair pared down its concert schedule. It usually offers a rock show and a country show, but this year it only scheduled Hank Williams Jr., with George Jones. Two more country legends — Willie Nelson (May 15, Covelli) and Kenny Rogers (Dec. 15, Covelli) — also made return visits this year.

An interesting show in 2009 was the Lovin’ Spoonful (Nov. 12, Stambaugh Auditorium). These remnants of the folk-rock era (John Sebastian is long gone) did a medley that put things in perspective for musicologists. The Spoonful and other acts such as Bob Dylan, the Byrds, the Association and the Mamas and the Papas, represented the American response to the British Invasion of the ’60s, and they created a lot of great music.

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